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Some Thoughts on Autobiography

Some Thoughts on Autobiography

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Published by RonPrice
SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY

We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. This matrix is the substance of sociology. The student of sociology, even though sensitized to how a person’s life is embedded in groups, can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she comes to write autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography, though, can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment or passionate engagement.

Beginning with Herbert Spencer’s two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of these are found in my patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said it can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1972, was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.”

The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, roll-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation.1 I feel as if I have just made a start in the first quarter-century(1984-2009) of my attempt at autobiography. After five decades(1963-2009) of dipping in and out of sociology I have become more than a little conscious of sociology’s hermeneutic influence as I go about writing my autobiography. Often when sociology’s influence did appear it was accidentally, serendipitously.

From my memoir emerges a picture of a Bahá'í, a man who was a teacher and lecturer for 35 years, a father, a husband, a pioneer for five decades who aims to provide as piercing an insight into his own life and times with as much muscular confidence that remained by his late middle age and the early years of his late adulthood as remained. He maintains as much etiquette of expression and diplomacy as he has been able to cultivate over his lifetime; along the way he takes no prisoners, writes sparingly about those who caused him discomfort in varying degrees.

He makes little to no attempt to manufacture an image, although he sometimes feels indulgently avuncular as an author. Readers will learn something of the furies that screamed through his life until medications softened his edges by his sixties. These same readers will also learn something of the seraphic intimacy which he discovered along the way in many of life’s interstices.

I do not substantiate much of what I write with sources, with ferinstances. I would like to see my memoir published, but I think it unlikely in my lifetime. If I do publish a small selection for family and friends I would like the paper to be of superb quality and to have the paper feels simultaneously crispy and smooth to the touch. Sadly, such an edition would be far too expensive. In spite of the undeniable quality of such a set of volumes and what I like to think is a fascinating subject, the retail price would be far to high, undoubtedly exaggerated and too expensive for the average person. Hopefully, some publishing house will plan a paperback edition at a more attractive and affordable price!

A passing glance at what may become a large format book might lead readers to expect one of those high-calorie low-fibre coffee-table volumes. But this work is not of that ilk. It is a substantial series of tomes, some five of them now. It aims to carry a great deal of insight into which I have sunk a considerable burden of time and effort.
SERENDIPITOUS SOCIOLOGY AND AUTOBIOGRAPHY

We all grow old and live in a matrix of groups, networks, institutions and communities. This matrix is the substance of sociology. The student of sociology, even though sensitized to how a person’s life is embedded in groups, can be guilty of serious omissions and patterned distortions when he or she comes to write autobiography. The introspector and retrospector in sociological autobiography, though, can give us rare access to inner experience from their position of aloof detachment or passionate engagement.

Beginning with Herbert Spencer’s two volumes in 1904, sociology has left us very few intellectual autobiographies. Monopolistic access to my own inner life has found many grooves and at least one or two of these are found in my patterned distortions away from sociology toward religion. I hope the time has not yet come, as Virginia Woolf said it can, when I may have forgotten far more of significance than I can remember. Certainly I am far from the position Heinrich Boll, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1972, was in when he wrote that “not one title, not one author, not one book that I held in my hand has remained in my memory.”

The autobiographer is both the ultimate Insider and the ultimate Outsider in applying scientific understanding and insight to the self, the interplay of sequences of status-sets, roll-sets and intellectual development. What results is not so much a condensed description than a step toward elucidation.1 I feel as if I have just made a start in the first quarter-century(1984-2009) of my attempt at autobiography. After five decades(1963-2009) of dipping in and out of sociology I have become more than a little conscious of sociology’s hermeneutic influence as I go about writing my autobiography. Often when sociology’s influence did appear it was accidentally, serendipitously.

From my memoir emerges a picture of a Bahá'í, a man who was a teacher and lecturer for 35 years, a father, a husband, a pioneer for five decades who aims to provide as piercing an insight into his own life and times with as much muscular confidence that remained by his late middle age and the early years of his late adulthood as remained. He maintains as much etiquette of expression and diplomacy as he has been able to cultivate over his lifetime; along the way he takes no prisoners, writes sparingly about those who caused him discomfort in varying degrees.

He makes little to no attempt to manufacture an image, although he sometimes feels indulgently avuncular as an author. Readers will learn something of the furies that screamed through his life until medications softened his edges by his sixties. These same readers will also learn something of the seraphic intimacy which he discovered along the way in many of life’s interstices.

I do not substantiate much of what I write with sources, with ferinstances. I would like to see my memoir published, but I think it unlikely in my lifetime. If I do publish a small selection for family and friends I would like the paper to be of superb quality and to have the paper feels simultaneously crispy and smooth to the touch. Sadly, such an edition would be far too expensive. In spite of the undeniable quality of such a set of volumes and what I like to think is a fascinating subject, the retail price would be far to high, undoubtedly exaggerated and too expensive for the average person. Hopefully, some publishing house will plan a paperback edition at a more attractive and affordable price!

A passing glance at what may become a large format book might lead readers to expect one of those high-calorie low-fibre coffee-table volumes. But this work is not of that ilk. It is a substantial series of tomes, some five of them now. It aims to carry a great deal of insight into which I have sunk a considerable burden of time and effort.

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Published by: RonPrice on Aug 10, 2009
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 Notes:This collection of letters, what has become by degrees a voluminousepistolarium, comes from my Bahai life, 1959 to 2009, from my years asan adolescent and then as an adult at the early, middle and late stages of that part of human development as the psychologists call them. Now, intothe early years of the evening of my life, the middle years(65-75) of lateadulthood(60-80), I post this reflection on a lifetime of writing letterswithin the context of my society, my Bahai life and especially my pioneering life. Although I have not been able to locate any letters before1962, before my pioneering life began, the first letter I recall writing wasin 1959, some 50 years ago, to a fellow Bahai youth in Japan.In addition to the 5000 letters, there are 5000 emails and internet posts. Ihave not kept the internet posts. They are scattered throughout the world-wide-web and, in many cases, will be untraceable. Virtually this entire body of epistolary material was written during the dark heart of an age of transition, an age which was my life, perhaps the darkest in history.This collection of 10,000 items including those hybrid forms of letter, theemail and internet post, which emerged as a new millennium wasopening, are written by and to a homefront(1962-1971) and then aninternational pioneer(1971-2009). They are communications written to: afriend, a colleague, a fellow Bahai, a person or persons at one of 1000s of sites on the internet, a Bahai institution at the local, national or globallevel; one of a multitude of other organizations, a family member or someassociation in an unnumbered set of contexts. Readers will find here atBLO mainly general commentaries on my letters and the letter as a genre, prose-poems on letters, mine and those of others in history and literature.Except for the occasional letter the body of my correspondence is notincluded here.Another 10,000 letters and correspondence of many types were written inconnection with my employment from the early 1960 into the first decadeof the new millenium, but virtually none of them were kept. The number of emails received in the first two decades of email correspondence(1989-2009) was beyond counting, but 99% of it was deleted. The small number of emails that required a detailed response were kept as were theresponses if they were more than a few lines. On my demise some or allof this collected correspondence that can be accessed may be published.We shall see. I shall not see for I shall have gone to the land of those who
 
speak no more, as The Bab put it so succinctly. He might have added tothe land of those who write no more. Those mysterious dispensations of Providence and my executors will determine what happens to thislifelong collection of attempts to connect with the minds and hearts of others by means of the traditional letter and its modern, its postmodernvariants. Note: Beginning two years ago, in August 2007, I kept all correspondenceof significance in computer files; the only hard copies kept were anassortment of quasi-epistolary and literary material that did not seem tohave a logical place in my computer directory.The Letters of Ron Price: 1959-2009Pioneering Over Four Epochs: Section VII--Letters by Ron PriceEditor:Bill WashingtonPublished in Pioneering Over Four Epochs: AnAutobiographical Study and a Study In Autobiography Section VII:LettersUnpublishedOriginally published as "Title of document, original edition:same title inthe original edition" in English.The thousands of letters and thousands of hours that this homefront andinternational pioneer for the Canadian Bahai community has spentwriting letters, emails and internet posts in the last fifty years, 1959-2009,I dedicate to the great letter writers in Bahai history. I dedicate thesehours and these communications to the Central Figures of this Faith,Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice--individuals andinstitutions that have produced a treasure house of correspondence.Then there are the many whose names are on Bahai lists but who have played little to no part in the Bahai community in their years of membership; as well as the not-so nameless and traceless, each of whomhas their story and their varying degrees of writing and who, collectively,have written what I have little doubt are literally billions of letters, emailsand written communications of an epistolary nature. To these I alsodedicate my collection of letters. If I also include in my dedication, themassive quantities of correspondence that has been written by theinstitutions of this Cause on the appointed and elected side of itsadministrative structure; and the epistolary work of the two chie precursors of this Faith, those two chief luminaries in the earliest history
 
of this emerging world relgion, and those who also wrote letters inresponding to the seeds these precursors sowed and were involved indifferent ways in the earliest days of the history of this new Faith as far  back as the time that Shaykh Ahmad left his home in N.E. Arabia in 1770to 1783(circa)---the letters of this multitude to whom I dedicate my ownepistolary efforts might just reach to a distant star if they were laid side by side!Many, if not most, of the epistolary communications of this nearly twoand a half centuries of Babi-Bahai history are now lost to historians andarchivists. Saving letters is not a popular sport and, some would argue,neither is writing them. But, still, the epistolary paper trails of this newestof the worlds great religious systems spread back, as is obvious, to well before the French revolution in 1789 and these trails are significantlymore than just a trace. No other religion has placed so subtle andsignificant a value on this method of exchange, writes Bahiyyih Nakhjvani in her book Asking Questions.(George Ronald, Oxford, 1990, p.6.At some future time, when the tempests we are living through in theseearly decades and, perhaps, centuries of the Formative Age of this Faith,an Age which began in Bahai history in 1921, are over and a relative calmhas been produced in the affairs of men, historians, archivists, biographers and analysts of many a kind will possess a literary andepistolary base of a magnitude undreamt of in any previous age for ananalysis of the times, the epochs of the first two centuries of this BahaiEra(B.E. beginning in 1844) and the century of its precursors, 1744-1844.My focus here is not on this wide and many-genred literary base,however, it is on the letter and, more recently, the email and internet postings of many kinds, kinds resembling the letter in many basic ways.Letters give us a direct and spontaneous portrait of the individual andthey are also useful in providing an analytical resource for social andinstitutional analysis. I could include here, diaries and journals since theyare letters, of a sort, letters to oneself, a book of thoughts to and byoneself. But these genres, too, are not my focus in this review of myletters and this form of communicaton that are part of the history of thisCause.

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